December 11, 2015 Mitchell Derrey

Season of Giving: Part 2

Working downtown, we encounter homelessness and poverty on a daily basis. As we drive into work, we see people living under bridges, tents up on street sides, and young people with signs asking for money. In the last year or two, I’ve noticed that the situation seems to be getting worse, and seems to be spreading farther north and south of downtown. According to the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness’s One Night Count in January of 2015, the number of those homeless increased 21% over the previous year.

We reached out to a local organization, Union Gospel Mission (UGM) to discuss the situation, find out how UGM is tackling urban issues like homelessness, and see how we can help.

Getting to the root

As designers, we try to help presenters tell their stories through visual communication. Sometimes, when they hand off their content we don’t get the full story and we have to dig deeper and get questions answered before we can execute as visual communicators. In a similar fashion, UGM also has to dig deeper and find out the root cause of a person’s situation, before they can help. DeCruz, of UGM’s Donor Relations, shared that often the lack of supportive relationships in people’s lives lead them to the streets or cause them to be without food or housing. So building relationships and trust is often the first challenge. Once that relationship is built, then they can work to tackle the issues the person is dealing with.

Everyone has a unique story

UGM has many different services designed to meet people where they are. One service is called Search and Rescue, where volunteers go out into the streets at night and offer people sleeping there food and other items needed to make it through the night. DeCruz shared a story about one man who found himself on the street,
having had no food for 3 days. Things had gotten so bad, that he resolved in his mind that this was the end. In fact he said a little prayer, telling God that he was prepared to just drift away and have his life come to an end. That
night, UGM’s Search and Rescue van found him on the streets and asked if he wanted food and shelter for the evening. That ended up being a turning point in his life. He was connected with a caseworker, able to complete a year-long program with UGM and now heads up the Search and Rescue team there, helping those in need.

The Mission

For UGM, their 5 key focus areas are: hunger, homelessness, poverty, high-risk youth, and addiction. Services include providing food (anywhere from 1,100 – 1,500 men, women, and children per day), shelter or housing, drug recovery programs, dental and legal services (through their volunteer network of dentists and lawyers) and community. They serve people regardless of race, gender, sexuality, and religion. That’s where they spread their gospel of unconditional love to the people they serve. When they see a need, they try to fill it.

When and how is the best way to give?

In terms of giving, donations and volunteers typically spike during the holidays and drop off expectedly during January and February. There are several volunteer opportunities at UGM in various programs and services that need volunteers in these months as well as throughout the year. DeCruz says it’s essential for UGM to partner with individual volunteers, churches, other organizations, and law enforcement, as the needs are great. Of course money is
needed and necessary to keep these programs afloat. It only costs $1.92 a meal to feed those helped by UGM every day, but the total adds up to almost $5,000 a day with the number of people they serve.

In terms of company giving, DeCruz made some suggestions. One idea is for employees to get together and start a drive, to collect money and donated goods, or pick a day periodically to volunteer as a group. Volunteer to tutor kids, or cook in one of the soup kitchens. Companies can also consider a donor matching type of program, matching time or money, thereby furthering employee participation.

Beyond giving of our time and money, treating someone in need with kindness and understanding is often the first step in giving back. We can offer a smile, ask people how they are doing, and build relationships with people who need a little compassion and love. Each person has a unique story, one we might not fully understand until we take the time to get to know them.

There’s no one shoe fits all in terms of solving the issue of homelessness and poverty. Often the problem seems so big we can’t possibly tackle it, but if we all decide to pitch in, we can help one person, one day at a time.